Students Want More Flexibility Amid Campus Vaccine and Mask Mandates

Students Want More Flexibility Amid Campus Vaccine and Mask Mandates

October 7, 2021

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Students desire more freedom in their learning options this term amid vaccine and mask mandates on campus. In a new BestColleges survey of 1,000 currently enrolled undergraduate students, 81% agree that colleges should give students the flexibility to choose how they will learn this term due to COVID-19.

However, 74% of students report that they would support their schools moving to a remote-only environment for the health and safety of the students, faculty, and staff.

Currently, more than 1,000 schools have mandated the COVID-19 vaccine for all on-campus individuals. But in spite of these requirements, about two thirds of students (65%) still believe that their schools should mandate mask-wearing for all students, faculty, and staff regardless of their vaccination status.

Numerous health and safety protocols are in place at institutions throughout the nation, and most students (64%) believe their schools' current COVID-19 precautions have been appropriate. However, many students still want a choice in how they will continue their learning over the next few months.

Half of Students Expect to Finish the Semester Remotely or in Hybrid Form

As cases continue to rise both on and off college campuses, uncertainty about the remainder of fall term has risen too. Though many students expect to complete what's left of the current semester on campus, 23% believe they will do most of their learning remotely, while 27% expect to complete the semester in hybrid form.

There were a few differences in expectations between various racial groups. Students of color, for example, were almost twice as likely as white students to expect to complete the remainder of the term remotely (30% vs. 16%).

Despite these expectations and students' support of remote and hybrid learning, 49% of respondents still believe college campuses should currently be open for in-person instruction.

Students are experiencing a variety of emotions about the current term’s uncertainty. Almost equal amounts of students feel anxious or hopeful, content or disappointed, and safe or unsafe about the next few months.

Mandates Influenced Students' College and Vaccine Choices

About one fourth of students (26%) report that vaccine mandates influenced their college choice this year. Students of color were almost twice as likely as white students to be influenced by these mandates (33% vs. 19%).

Students also took state mandates into consideration when choosing what school they would attend. More than a third of respondents (38%) report that how the state government where a school was located was handling COVID-19 impacted their college choice. Students of color were most likely to take this into consideration compared to their white peers (48% vs. 31%).

But mandates influenced more than just college choices. School vaccine mandates also influenced students' decisions to get vaccinated.

Thirty-nine percent of students report that they were influenced to get the COVID-19 vaccine because their school mandated it for on-campus learning. And nearly an equal amount of students (37%) were influenced to get the vaccine because their school did not mandate COVID-19 vaccination.

Much smaller amounts of students considered learning remotely, transferring schools, or even dropping out over their institution's vaccine mandate decision.

Students Less Likely to Support Vaccine Mandates Than Mask Mandates

While 54% of respondents agree that colleges should require the COVID-19 vaccine for all on-campus individuals with allowances only for religious and/or medical exemptions, 65% agree that schools should require mask-wearing for all students, faculty, and staff, regardless of vaccination status.

Despite this higher support for mask mandates over vaccines, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that colleges with vaccine rates higher than 90% can safely resume normal operations without widespread testing.

Currently, several institutions including Yale, Brown, and Dartmouth have achieved higher than 90% vaccination rates on campus.

As schools continue working to create the safest possible environment for their on-campus populations, what students want the most is the option to learn in the way that makes them most comfortable this term.


The survey was conducted from Sept 9 through 22 of 2021. Student respondents were fielded by Lucid LLC. Survey participants included 1,000 currently enrolled undergraduate students nationwide. Respondents were 18-26 years of age, enrolled at a college or university and pursuing a bachelor's degree. The respondents for the survey were screened by various quality checks, including systems like Relevant ID, and responses were manually reviewed to ensure consistency and accuracy.

Feature Image: andresr / E+ / Getty Images

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